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Q&A: IBM's Thomas Hawk discusses grid computing

Open standards and cooperation by competitors will advance the technology, he says

By Patrick Thibodeau and Robert L. Mitchell
July 22, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Thomas Hawk, who heads IBM's grid computing program, yesterday sat down to defend and explain the technology concept to Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau and Robert L. Mitchell.
The goal of grid computing is to allow an organization to treat all its hardware and applications as one system or resource. Hawk believes that kind of development is already taking place, even if it's not recognized as such. In fact, virtualization is one example of an early form of grid computing, he argued during the discussion.

Your vision of grid computing as a universal virtualization layer for a broad range of corporate IT services casts such a wide net, and strings together so many technologies that already don't work well, that it's hard not to be skeptical about it. How do you defend it? To me, it's all about the open-standards integration and acceptance. If we don't gravitate to open standards, then we will struggle. Companies buying technology have been clamoring for this for a while. They're candidly mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore, and it's being driven by a level of complexity that they can't deal with.

Thomas Hawk, head of IBM's grid computing program
Thomas Hawk, head of IBM's grid computing program
Credit: Patrick Thibodeau
The No. 1 inhibitor to growing capability primarily from the IT function is the inability to manage complexity. So we see the virtualization of the infrastructure over the appearance of open standards, and then the ultimate transformations of products and services to those standards, as a way to mask that complexity, reduce it significantly and increase manageability.

Are you working with your competitors on standards? Yes. IBM, Sun, HP. Microsoft is stepping up more. BEA -- all of those players are members of the Global Grid Forum to one degree or another. We are doing that collaboratively as a byproduct of the activities of the Global Grid Forum. But there are specific customer implementations that are also driving vendors together.

Should users be pushing vendors to ensure that products have grid standards? Absolutely. It is fascinating to me how little power the aggregation of the customer base believes they have. They have all of the power. Customers don't realize the clout and the power they have.

At what point does grid computing get beyond scientific and engineering applications and become used widely by businesses? The thing that takes it to the next step is transaction management, where we can now begin to deal with, in a gridded infrastructure, the combination of traditional batch, job or compute-intensive workloads along with robust, transaction-oriented applications.

A lot of companies are heavily into virtualization and increasing their utilization rates for IT resources such as storage and compute power. If they are already accomplishing that, why bother with grid computing? If

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